Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Taking Dictation

The BBC reports that £20,000 has been spent on an unpublished Ulster-Scots "dictionary" prepared by the defunct Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group, whose grandiose plans for the dialect came to nought after the civil servant supervising it reported that it had failed to reach agreement. The confirmation, which came in a written answer from the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland, provides further evidence that the group, only some of whose members were academic linguists, spent generously on projects that pre-empted the work of an academy.

Intriguingly, the Minister added that "Discussion with the Ulster-Scots community is continuing with a view to publication as soon as possible." Is the Blether Region alone in suspecting more disagreement and delay? The Minister’s promised "languages" strategy has been held up, apparently interminably, with remarkably similar justification.

Perhaps he will be out of office before either the dictionary or the strategy appears.

The Ulster-Scots dictionary has long been controversial. As one response to a public consultation on the academy concept put it: "It is in my view regrettable that work on several projects has already started, without proper consultation, planning, assessment or even apparently much thought."

Another respondent expressed more fundamental concerns: "Why should there be a separate Scots dictionary for Ulster in the first place? Resources may be more efficiently allocated helping to improve the extant Scots dictionaries." After all, most people access the two historical dictionaries of Scots, DOST and the SND, via the Internet nowadays. It would be perfectly possible to exclude words not used in Ulster, and even to provide a separate website drawing on the SLD database for that purpose.

Although one can infer from the BBC report that £20,000 is considered a large sum for a dictionary, it is surely only in the context of co-operation with Scotland that such a modest price tag for a reputable reference work could even be contemplated.

On the other hand, if what one gets is unpublished activist Diktat not based on attested usage and rejected by ordinary users, perhaps £20,000 is a lot of money after all.

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